Walmart Expands Its Use of VR for Training and Recruitment
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Digital technology is transforming almost every part of business. From innovative devices helping consumers experience retail in new ways, to supply chain technology making sure new products get where they need to be, no stone is left unturned when it comes to retail's digital transformation.
One of the more exciting elements of Industry 4.0 tech is found in virtual reality. Once the stuff of science fiction movies and fantasy, these immersive audio-visual experiences are now finding their way into homes and workplaces. VR can be used in the retail sector to provide customers with great experiences, sure. However, this amazing technology is also being deployed to help facilitate the training and onboarding of new staff.
Retail giant Walmart has been one of the pioneers of this type of VR application and is now looking to embed virtual reality technology even deeper into its HR process.
It was way back in 2017 when Walmart first started using virtual reality technology in its training processes. It found that by using the tech, fresh employees could be trained in all manner of store procedures without ever leaving the training room.
This meant they could be adequately prepared for emergencies, busy periods, or even manic events such as Black Friday sales, without having to face any consequences in the event a mistake is made and without the pressure of having to deal with these situations in the flesh. Virtual reality also allows new staff to be trained without disrupting the day-to-day operations of Walmart stores.
"Virtual reality in the retail environment makes a lot of sense, especially in stores that are open 24 hours a day," said Vice President of Learning for Walmart, Andy Trainor. "Why? Because you don't have the opportunity to train after hours and you don't want to disrupt your customers on the floor. Virtual reality allows you to artificially create scenarios that you can't recreate on the sales floor in a way that associates can learn in a safe environment."
As of February 2019, ten thousand of Walmart's 1.2 million employees were being trained using the Oculus Rift VR headsets installed at Walmart Academy training centers. The retail giant now has the technology rolled out to every Walmart store, where in-store HR professionals will manage the devices and be responsible for their use during training sessions.
The devices are clearly yielding results - both in terms of testing scores and the time it takes to complete training modules.
"When we used the Oculus Rift VR headset in the classroom, we noticed an increase in test scores between five and ten percent," added Trainor. "We are starting to replace some global learning management system modules that can take 30 to 45 minutes and transitioning this to a three- to five-minute module in the virtual reality environment."
Walmart is not simply using VR to train its floor staff. It's also using the technology to better assess candidates for higher-level positions.
Traditionally, a Walmart employee seeking a promotion to a middle-management position would have to be subjected to a thorough and complicated vetting process that included a detailed paper-based assessment. By combining the written assessment with in-person interviews, assessors can make a judgment as to how the employee will cope with the added pressure and responsibility a management position brings.
This year, however, the retailer has been experimenting with replacing the written assessment with a virtual reality-based procedure.
Using the same Oculus Rift devices used for training new employees, staff members seeking a promotion can have their knowledge, instincts, and abilities thoroughly tested in a simulated Walmart environment. This allows assessors to determine how well the prospect knows the store's layout and departments, how well they deal with everyday scenarios and prioritize tasks, and how well they handle unexpected events.
One scenario has them trying to motivate an underperforming employee, while in another they must deal with an angry customer. A more detailed scenario presents them with a busy aisle where there are multiple problems - spills, trash, stock issues, etc. - and assesses how they prioritize jobs in a high-pressure situation.
The VR tool is used in conjunction with interviews and other methods, and is designed to remove bias from the assessment process - giving an objectively-measured score for each prospect.
"The assessment can reveal leadership, but it also might show that someone is actually a better fit in another job," said Walmart's Director of Media Relations, Michelle Malashock. "That might not be immediately obvious until that person actually steps inside the role using VR. It's a great way to reduce inherent bias in the hiring process and allows us to use technology and data to try and level the playing field as much as possible."
It's amazing to see virtual reality technology being used not only in training scenarios but also in recruitment and promotional processes as well. It's only natural that big brands such as Walmart are leading the charge in this way, and we'll hopefully see more brands adopting it soon.